The candidates, including incumbents Claire Smith and Diane Gibson-Gray, have focused on raising student achievement while maintaining the fiscal health of the district.
The district’s Academic Performance Index score, an annual measure of test score performance of schools and districts, has increased 30 points over the last four years, including 12 points in the 2011-12 school year.
The incoming board members, along with current members Joy Motts and Gary Hack, will be tasked with keeping the district’s budget from sinking. It has an audited general fund balance of $31 million for 2011-12, but must remain in the black for three years to avoid a state takeover.
Linda Anderson, a retired school nurse, is running on the premise that the district’s success hinges on its ability to provide the best staff for its students. She considers it imperative that the district creates an environment conducive to the financial needs of its teachers to avoid losing them to other districts.
Anderson would like to see all students arrive to school on time and be treated equally to help them excel, which can only happen in the confines of the classroom. Outside the classroom, the district’s budget must remain solvent, said Anderson, through thorough examination and dialogue.
Barbara Cowan, a retired teacher and former administrator, believes the district has a core group of quality teachers who can be positively impacted by training in technological techniques and learning theories to enhance their ability to educate.
Like Anderson, Cowan is a proponent of keeping kids in the classroom as long as they don’t disrupt the delicate learning environment. If the budget allows, she’d like to see schools stocked with counselors to handle students with emotional and scholastic challenges. She said she’s in favor of Prop. 30, which would temporarily increase taxes to fund public education, and endorses breaking schools into academies.
Any additional budget cuts the district must make, said Cowan, should avoid impacting students.
Incumbent Diane Gibson-Gray, who was elected in 2002, isn’t shy about emphasizing the need for the board to work together to balance the budget if Prop. 30 fails, which would result in the district going $19.4 million in the red.
“This is a huge number to overcome, and it will take all hands on deck to identify budget efficiencies and cuts that stay as far from the classroom as possible,” she said.
Gibson-Gray is impressed with the district’s API scores of late, but believes there’s room for improvement. She’s confident that every school district employee is working hard to prepare students for life.
If re-elected, incumbent Claire Smith, a community volunteer, would focus on student achievement, student safety and keeping the district’s budget from deteriorating.
Smith maintains that student success must be reviewed on a yearly basis, and solutions be found to obstacles preventing students from reaching their potential. As with student achievement, said Smith, the district’s budget must be judiciously reviewed to keep the budget in the red during the three-year cycle.
Smith also believes student safety should take precedence over other matters. She wants to see site safety personnel trained and updated on new emergency information in preparation for possible natural disasters.
Synitha Walker, who is campaigning with Antioch City Council candidate Monica Wilson, is the executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Parents Connected. Based in Antioch, the organization comprises parents dedicated to educating other parents on how to help their students get to and through college. She believes the key to improving the district lies in increasing parent engagement in the school system. Establishing a high-quality school system, said Walker, is a key step toward revitalizing the city as a whole.
Debra Vinson, a psychotherapist and school counselor, believes the board needs to look into how student achievement can be increased and maintained over the long term. She sees a glaring need for the board to deal with low attendance and enrollment that impact how much money the district receives from the state.
Since parents have options regarding where to send their students, Vinson said it’s vital for parents, administrators and teachers to communicate in order to address parents’ needs. Vinson also supports teachers in their struggle to obtain raises.
Jack Yeager, a small-business owner and educator for 20 years, stands firmly against taxes. If elected, he hopes to implement financial education courses for the students in seventh grade and above.
Yeager believes students don’t fully understand what they’re getting into when they leave high school. He wants to help them avoid student loans, and educate them on alternatives to college with the understanding they could always attend college when they can pay for it themselves.
Also in favor of establishing a universal dress code for all students, Yeager said he has a series of ideas under wraps until he gets elected, or can share with the board if he is not.
Candidates Zandra Raphael and Randy Benevides did not respond to requests for comment.